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Ecumenical plan agreed for Carlisle parishes

17 October 2014


Greenery: a sheep stands on the edge of a field near Ambleside, in the Lake District 

Greenery: a sheep stands on the edge of a field near Ambleside, in the Lake District 

A PLAN to reorganise the diocese of Carlisle into 40 ecumenical "mission communities" has been approved by the diocesan synod.

The proposal will bring the diocese's 270 parishes into about 40 larger groupings with Methodist and United Reformed Church (URC) congregations. Each community will have a leader, who could be a minister or lay preacher from one of the Free Churches, if not an Anglican priest or Reader.

The Bishop of Penrith, the Rt Revd Robert Freeman, said on Wednesday that the plan would enable the diocese not just to survive, but to grow. "The issue is the likelihood that in the next five to ten years we are going to see a decline in the number of stipendiary clergy, and we want to make sure we have got a structure that means we are not only sustainable, but introducing the possibility of growth," he said.

"I want to ensure that what we are doing across Cumbria is missional - not simply managing decline. Strengthening our ministry goes hand in hand with strengthening mission and evangelism. Carrying on as we are is not an option."

Speaking after the vote at the diocesan synod on Saturday, the Bishop of Carlisle, the Rt Revd James Newcome, echoed Bishop Freeman. "Most people don't like change, but doing nothing is not an option."

Bishop Freeman said that the diocese expected some parishioners to fear dramatic upheaval, but insisted that working with the Methodists and the URC would not mean losing an Anglican identity.

"It will go way beyond joint events or services, but we still want to celebrate those different identities. We see the benefit of the mixed economy. Rather than trying to create a homogeneous soup, we want those different identities to be sustained."

Other Free Church congregations in the area could also be involved if they showed an interest, Bishop Freeman said.

Bishop Freeman said that he would want to ask any hesitant churchgoers why they were opposed, as there was no place for sitting comfortably in existing structures that were not working. "We would want to ask that question: 'Are you sure this isn't just church for you, but this is church for all of your community?'"

Ultimately, he said, he saw Cumbria becoming an "ecumenical county".

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